The Parker Solar Probe detected a source of fast solar wind gusts near the Sun

The Parker Solar Probe has discovered a source of fast gusts of solar wind near the Sun. This discovery could improve predictions of solar activity and help operators shut down endangered networks and satellites.

The Sun is not only a seething ball of plasma, but it also has a magnetic charge, whose twisting magnetic field lines constantly change its behavior near the surface. This activity results in patches of fast solar wind, whose particles fly out of coronal holes at a speed of about 750 kilometers per second.

The Parker Solar Probe got close enough to observe the microstructure inside these holes and identify the forces responsible. Fast winds rush out of coronal holes, where magnetic fields point outward from the Sun. Inside these holes are convection cells, similar to those seen in a boiling cauldron of water. At certain points, these cells meet and pull the Sun’s magnetic field down from the surface, creating a funnel.

The funnels amplify the magnetic field to the point where high-energy particles are ejected with 10 to 100 times the energy of the slow solar wind. The Parker Solar Probe solved these vortices in a way that was not possible from Earth.

Before the Parker Solar Probe was launched, there were two theories about the source of these high-energy particles. According to one, the particles were accelerated by reconnecting magnetic fields; the other attributed their speed to Alfvénian waves of hot plasma. The investigation was initiated in part to resolve this question, and the authors of the article believe that this has already been done.

“We think our results are strong evidence that this is due to reconnection,” said Professor Stuart Bale of the University of California, Berkeley.

Alfvénian waves are real, but the authors conclude that they are a consequence of magnetic reconnections rather than a competing driver of fast particles. Bale noted that a similar process is observed in the tail of Earth’s magnetosphere, the part of the magnetosphere opposite the Sun.

Although ground-based telescopes could not discern the magnetic funnels, they detected jets within the holes, which the authors believe correspond to the location of the funnels.

This discovery will help improve our predictions of solar activity and provide new data for further exploration of the solar system. It could also help operators of satellites and networks on Earth avoid the threat of extinction.

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